During the annual town meeting in March, Bristol voters will consider authorizing the selectmen to study the costs and benefits of annexing the unorganized territories of Loud’s, Marsh, and Bar islands, off the coast of Round Pond.
The warrant article for the annual town meeting, as approved by the Bristol Board of Selectmen on Jan. 17 reads, “To see if the town will authorize the selectmen to study the costs and benefits of annexation by the town of Loud’s, Marsh, and Bar Islands, which were part of the town of Bristol until 1863 and have subsequently been part of the unorganized territory of Lincoln County; and if they deem it appropriate, to petition the Legislature for such annexation.”
The topic first emerged during the selectmen’s Jan. 10 meeting, when Town Administrator Chris Hall brought up the town’s cost of providing services to the island communities.
“We’re the source of fire protection, we provide free parking at Round Pond Harbor for the moorings, and now we’ve been asked by the state to do plumbing inspections,” Hall said in an interview Friday, Jan. 26. “It seems like each time something comes up that requires governmental attention, Bristol is the town asked to provide it.”
Loud’s Island, also known as Muscongus Island, seceded from Bristol in 1863 after conflicts with the town regarding the election of 1860 and the draft for the Civil War, as described in the 2007 book “Declarations of Independence: Encyclopedia of American Autonomous and Secessionist Movements” by James Erwin.
Since then, the island has been part of the unorganized territory of Lincoln County. Unorganized territories are areas of the state that have no local, incorporated municipal government.
There are no year-round residents of the island, but Loud’s Island has a significant seasonal population, according to seasonal resident Nate Jones. Jones, also of Westport Island, said his family has owned property on the island for generations and he expects there will be resistance to any attempt to annex Loud’s.
“It’s one of those things where, it’s been this way for hundreds of years, and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Jones said.
As the island is unorganized territory, property owners pay taxes to the state based on the state mil rate, which is currently $5.04, according to the Maine Revenue Services website. The mil rate determines the property tax per $1,000 of value. Thus, someone who owns a $100,000 property would receive a $504 tax bill for 2017.
According to state tax records, property owners on Loud’s Island were taxed a total of $52,616, Marsh Island property owners were taxed $6,312, and Bar Island property owners were taxed $95, for a total of $59,023 in 2017.
If Bristol were to annex the islands, property owners on the three islands would pay the town’s mil rate of $6.25, resulting in almost $72,000 in taxes, according to Hall.
The purpose of the taxes is “not to make the town of Bristol rich, but it would be fair compensation for the services the town provides,” Hall said.
However, Jones said he wouldn’t be surprised if islanders want to receive other services from the town if it annexes the island. Currently, property owners handle the island’s road maintenance and deal with downed trees, among other things. After the windstorm in October, the islanders handled the cleanup themselves, Jones said.
The property owners have also looked into removing the 90-foot fishing vessel Columbia, which ran aground near the shore of Loud’s Island. The cost would be “tens of thousands of dollars” to remove the boat, Jones said.
“This would raise a lot of issues that we’ve been dealing with on our own,” Jones said. “If the town were looking to take some kind of ownership over Loud’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if the islanders started to say ‘we want power’ or ‘we want the Columbia gone’ and stuff like that.”
The Bristol selectmen approved the article for the annual town meeting that, if approved by voters, would allow the selectmen to investigate the legalities and financial responsibilities that would come with annexing the islands. Depending on the outcome of the selectmen’s research, the town could ask its legislative delegation to introduce a bill during the Legislature’s next session, Hall said.
So far, the town has received no feedback from Loud’s, Marsh, or Bar Island property owners, but Hall said Bristol would work closely with the taxpayers if the town pursues annexation.
“The article going before town meeting simply allows the selectmen to look into the matter, and, if the selectmen give the OK, we will ask the legislative delegation to put in a bill,” Hall said.
The annual town meeting will take place in the Bristol Consolidated School gym starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20.